Tag Archives: gender

Now you know

“I don’t like princesses anymore,” Benjamin insists.  “Girls like princesses.”

“Plenty of boys like princesses,” I tell him.

“No, they don’t.”

So, there you have it folks; only girls like princesses.  Belle, Ariel, the new one with the pea, Mulan, Tinkerbelle, Aurora — the whole coterie.  All of them are apparently lesbians.

Does that mean they can no longer go to the prom?

Kill the girls

“Today at school we played ‘Kill the Girls,’” my kindergartener tells me as I work on his sister’s lunch.

“Oh, really?” I respond.  “That doesn’t sound like a particularly nice game, Zach.”  I pull last night’s tortillas and beans out of the fridge, grabbing some leftover squash for good measure.

“I didn’t get to make a kite in school,” Benjamin whines.  “Mrs. A didn’t call me.”

“NA!” Lilah screams, which is how she says “snack,” a word that refers to any and all comestibles.

“I’m getting it, baby.”  I dump leftover Monterey Jack on the tortilla and turn on the burner.  “You’ll probably get to make one tomorrow.”  I pour more milk into Lilah’s cup then grab her to wash her hands. I turn to add beans and another tortilla to the quesadillas.

“Some kids hurt me in school,” Zach tells me.

“Who hurt you?”

“The girls in the other class.  They held me.”

“Well, what happened?”

“Ian tried to help me.  He told them they couldn’t.”

I flip the quesadillas too early and beans fly out.   “Lilah, go to your seat.  Lunch is almost ready.”

“NA!” she cries.

“It’s almost ready.  But you have to go to your seat.”  She starts toddling off to her chair, belly arriving a good fifteen seconds before the rest of the child.

“I didn’t make a kite,” Benjamin tells me.

“I know, Ben.  Zach is trying to tell me something.”  I turn the food out of the pan and grab the pizza cutter.  “First, I’m glad your friend tried to protect you.  It’s nice to have such a good friend.  You should be sure you try to defend your friends.”

“Yes, I do but they called me a name while they were holding me.”

“Here,” I say, tossing quesadillas on Ben’s and Lilah’s plates.  “What did they call you?”

“’Weak boy.’”

“They called you ‘weak boy’?”

“Yes.”

“Mrs. A. didn’t call my name,” Benjamin mourns.

“Ben, just tell her you want to make a kite tomorrow.  But, please, let your brother finish telling me. So, did you tell the teacher afterwards?

“I couldn’t do anything.  I just went back to playing.”

Lilah is grunting and gesticulating towards the food.  I hand her another.  Then it dawns on me.  “Zach, was this while you were playing ‘Kill the Girls’?”

“Yes,” he replies, as if there is no connection between the game they were playing and the attack upon his person.

“Well, do you think that maybe they didn’t like that you guys were trying to kill them and they were trying to defend themselves?”

“Yes, but then my guards tried to stop them.  I think they learned the better of it.”  At this point, I am not sure I want to know how exactly the girls learned the better of it.  On the one hand, I am thrilled he is being included in the reindeer games, being treated as one of the guys.  If he were an outcast, he’d have been left out of the game or – as we all know – grouped with the girls.  Instead, he is definitely considered part of the group.

On the other hand, I’m not particularly thrilled with the reindeer games they are choosing to play.

“But, I didn’t get to make a kite today.  Mrs. A. didn’t call my name.”

“NA!”

You gotta fight… for the right… to PLIE

My preschooler wanted to dance.  At the children’s museum, he tugged a pink tutu over his sweatpants, donned too-large tap shoes, and tried to imitate the moves on the instructional video.  For his birthday, he requested a dance costume and ballet slippers.

Clearly, I have done something right, raising a child whose gender-identification knows no hard and fast boundaries.  He is a free spirit, a maverick, a dude who is comfortable enough in his dudeliness to want to dance his ass off.

We signed him up for dance class, an “enrichment” that an outside vendor provided at his preschool just before the Tuesday afternoon preschool class began.  He was the only boy, but Benjamin had never had a problem in any group activity.  He is an exuberant joiner in whatever the grown-ups have planned, always happy to play soccer or spin hoops or glue sparkly doodads onto picture frames.  There was no reason to assume dance would be any exception.

The first day, the teacher looked at me.  “You know he’s the only boy.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” I replied.  “I don’t think it will bother him, either.”  And it didn’t.  That first day, he enjoyed class well enough, and when I picked him up after his preschool day, he told me he had practiced arabesques.  Granted, his version of the elegant ballet move was a little different from what I found online, but, hell, he was enjoying himself.

We bought him some jazz shoes, since all the girls had pink ballet slippers.  We’d have gotten him ballet shoes, if we could have found any in size 10, extra wide.

He went into the second class cheerfully.  As I put on his shoes, the teacher came over.  “You know he won’t be doing the ballet in the recital.”

“Why not?”

“He can do all the dances in class, but in the recital he will do the boys’ program.”  Now, that might have made sense to her, but I couldn’t figure out how he was going to do the boys’ program since he was the only boy.  Nor was I quite sure why it was that ballet is only for girls.  Yet, the more I tried to wrangle an explanation, the more I became confused.

“Just tell me why it is he’s not allowed to do all the dances,” I asked about three minutes into the conversation.

“Because if dads hear their sons are doing ballet, they freak out,” she said, not for the first time.  “We’ve worked too long and too hard to build up a boys’ program.”  Well, obviously it was working out beautifully, given that they now had a grand total of one boy in the class.

“So, he’s going to dance by himself?”

“No, some of the girls will do the boys’ program with him.”  Oh, now that made perfect sense.  He couldn’t do ballet, but the girls could do the boys’ program.

I’d have continued the conversation, despite the vertigo it was giving me, but my kid started crying.  I am not sure if he was upset because she had been saying all this crap right in front of him or because her assistant had just called out, “OK, girls, follow me.”  We cut off the conversation and I knelt down, because now Benjamin needed convincing to stay in the class.

I caught up with her later.  “Look,” I said.  “This is not 1956.  Why can’t he do all the dances?”

She gave me the line about working hard to build up a boys’ program.

“Well,” I replied.  “I’ve worked too long and too hard to convince my boys that they can do anything a girl can do.  And, also, do you think you could remind your assistants not to refer to all the students as ‘girls’?”

That night, my husband and I decided that, as long as the child would be getting equal stage time, we wouldn’t make a fuss.  And, the next week, I marched on in, ready to stand by my man, all 37 pounds of him.

Except he didn’t want to stay in class.  “I don’t want to sit next to the girls,” he told me.  Now, you must understand that I read Ms. Magazine and Bitch. There was no earthly was I was going to stand by while my child quit dance class simply because there were no other boys in it.  I tried to convince him to stay.

“Sometimes I do things when I’m the only woman,” I told him.  “If you like to dance, you should stay.”

“I don’t want to dance,” he whimpered, looking out on the sea of pink tulle before him.

The assistants were trying to call the room to order.  “Quiet down, girls!” they commanded, oblivious to the p-nis in their midst.  Or perhaps trying to drive its owner away.

I pulled one outside.  “Do you think you could stop referring to the kids as ‘girls’?  He’s a boy, and he’s kind of sensitive about being the only one.”  She gave me the old whatsyourpoint stare and headed back in.  That probably should have been my cue to leave, but I didn’t want to give my kid the message that we’re down with quitting.

I convinced him to stay and just watch the class.  I figured the teacher would reach out to him after a few minutes and try to draw him in.

Yeah.  Not so much.  She had her girls to attend to.

When I peeked in a few minutes later, he was sitting by the side, watching while she led the girls through the routine.  “Now, turn around.  Step to the side.  Fix your hair.”

Whoa, Nellie.  Hold the phone.   Fix your hair? Fix your hair? That’s the dance move?

No fucking wonder he didn’t want to be in the damned class.  I didn’t want him there.  Nor, for the record, would I want his sister in a class like that.  Dance is about art and grace and exercise and hopefully becoming aware enough of your body to stop walking into walls.  It is not, unless I missed the memo, about fluffing one’s hair.

Well, folks, apparently I did miss the memo, because when I called the director of the program, he patiently explained to me that Benjamin should never have been allowed in the class because they segregate the boys and girls into separate classes.  Since there were no other boys, there was no boys’ class offered, so he should not have been allowed to join in at all.

In the process of ripping him a brand new anus, I asked why it is exactly that they segregate the boys and girls.  “Because boys don’t do girly moves,” he patiently explained to me, as if that just made everything OK.

It goes without saying that our refund check is in the mail.  And our daughter will never do this dance program.

But I am left wondering what has happened to us, the Free to Be You and Me generation?  Things were supposed to be all fixed by the time we raised our children.  Instead, it all seems even worse than when we were little.  When did it become OK that all the shoes in the toddler girls section are pink, so that in order to find my daughter brown shoes I needed to buy the ones marked “boys”?  When did we decide we were fine with the toy marketers informing us that two-year-old girls and two-year-old boys like to play with different things?  Hell, they aren’t even potty trained yet – they have no idea what their p-nises and v@ginas are for, let alone that that anatomical difference has marked them for a lifetime of gendering.

Why aren’t people mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore?  Because I sure am.   But I’m also very, very sad.

Because my boy now thinks that dance is only for girls.

Take my hand come along

Benjamin’s preschool has something called “enrichments,” which is three kinds of awesome because it’s all these extra little classes that we might want to enroll him in, except the instructors come to the preschool and teach the class right there, thereby freeing us from having to haul their little tushies all over tarnation so that they can be enriched.  The instructors are independent contractors, but the preschool director collects the forms and checks and hands them over to the teachers.  The classes take place between the morning and afternoon sessions, so both groups of kids can partake.

We signed Benjamin up for music.  He gets to stay later on Wednesdays and play instruments and most probably drive the poor music teacher to distraction with twenty-seven-million questions about the timpani.  Whatever.  That’s what she gets for deciding to teach music to preschoolers.

After a trip to the local children’s museum, it became clear that there was one more class we should sign him up for.  You see, he spent a half an hour in the dance area, wearing a tutu and a pair of tap shoes, trying to imitate the actions being shown on a video.  Clearly, he is interested in taking dance. Which is all for the best, because it might help him a little with his coordination.  Or paying attention to his body.  Or whatever it takes to stop him from walking into walls.

Last Monday, I went into the preschool office to sign hand in the form for the class starting on Tuesday.  She paused when she saw what I was giving her.

“You might want to call the teacher,” she said.  “They haven’t had a boy in a long time.  They may have to change things.”  In other words, they may not want a boy in the class.

I smiled agreeably and began to get up.  Then, I thought the better of it.  Why the hell should I call them before registering my three-year-old for dance class?  It’s not like this is 1952.  We’ve been through all that bra-burning and marching and whatnot precisely to earn boys the right to take dance.  And for equal pay and quality childcare and the right to choose, of course.  But mostly so that boys could take dance class.

“You know what,” I told her.  “I think I’ll just register him.  If they have a problem with it, they can come talk to me.”  I did, however, think it wise to mention to Benjamin that it would be mostly girls in the class.  By mostly, I meant everyone except for him, of course.

On Tuesdays, he is in the afternoon class, so the dance class is before his preschool day.  As we drove to school, we were discussing the fact that in a few minutes, it would be his first day of dance class.  “But, Mommy,” he queried.  “Why do girls dance, too?”

“Because, babe, sometimes girls also like to dance.”  Clearly, he thinks that most preschool ballet classes are completely overrun with little boys, but every now and then they decide to let a girl or two in.

When we walked into the room, there was a young woman laying down tape.  “This dude is starting dance today,” I told her.

She looked up, saw who was standing with me, and panicked.  “I’m just the assistant.  Let me get you the teacher.  She can answer your questions.”

“Oh, I don’t have any questions.  Except about what shoes he should be wearing.”  She nodded and scurried off in search of her boss, who returned post haste with a large smile.

“Ben here is starting dance today,” I told her.  “Does he need special shoes?”

“Well, the girls all wear ballet shoes.  But you could probably get him some jazz shoes.”  I wasn’t sure what jazz shoes were, and Benjamin had no idea. I’m pretty sure what he really wanted were tap shoes.  But there is no way I am outfitting that child with a pair of shoes that allows him to make a great deal of noise.

She turned to leave, but she couldn’t stop herself.  She had to turn back.  “Just so you know, he’s the only boy.”

I smiled sweetly.  OK, maybe not sweetly, because I’m just basically not sweet.  But nicely.  I was definitely smiling nicely.  “He doesn’t care.  And I sure don’t, either.”

I left him, peeking back in a few minutes later to see him – a husky little Mack truck of a boy between a whole lot of pink-clad children – standing on the tape, waiting for his name to be called.  When I picked him up at the end of the preschool afternoon, I asked him how dance had gone.

“Good,” he told me.

“What did you do?”

“Arabesques.”  Right.  Of course.  Arabesques.

Can anyone tell me what the hell an arabesque is?

Race Matters; or, the Judge, the Professor, and the Doctor

These are interesting times.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been taken to task for stating, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”  Her word choice is poor, but her point is that her ethnicity and gender carry with them a wealth of experience simply unavailable to a white man.

Can race, gender, or ethnicity be instructive?  Well, let’s examine the evidence.

In a recent moment of almost perfect poetic symbolism, the fine officers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, racially profiled one of the finest minds in Af-Am scholarship, a man who has been instrumental in creating a space in which the uniqueness of black experiences and voices is honored.  Well, now he sure as hell has had an edifying experience as a black American male that is not available to the white population.  Having been an academic long enough to know how their minds work, one of my first thoughts upon reading of Gates’s arrest was, “Wow.  Think of the article he’ll write after this one.”

Don’t get me wrong – I think the man is a genius regardless of race. But, his experiences as an African-American have shaped him into the type of scholar he is.  And, I’d be shocked if this latest experience doesn’t further shape his academic work.

And then we have Regina Benjamin, the nominee for Surgeon General, who is being criticized as too fat for the job.  Now, setting aside my immediate reaction of “Are you fucking kidding me?” for a moment, I do see the point that we need role models for good health.  However, a couple of photos of a plus-sized woman do not by any stretch of the imagination demonstrate that she is not a good doctor or role model.  Show me a grocery receipt with $78 of Twinkees on it and then we can talk about poor health choices.  For all I know Dr. Benjamin eats well and exercises regularly and would weigh a helluvalot more if she didn’t.  Last I checked, people come with different body types.

Oh-ho-ho-ho, isn’t it fun to characterize black women as lazy, stupid slobs who can’t be bothered to walk their empty tub of KFC X-tra Crispy to the trash can?  It’s uncool to call black women “Welfare Queens” nowadays, but calling them too fat and unhealthy to be good doctors is every bit as much about race and gender.

I don’t know Thing One about how it feels to be discriminated against for being fat, female, and black, but Regina Benjamin sure does.  I suspect that experience will serve her well as she tries to educate Americans on their health choices.

Does race, gender, and ethnicity qualify someone for a job?  Of course not.  Does being black or Latina in American make a person necessarily wiser or smarter than someone who is white and male?  Not last I checked?  Does it provide a library of experience from which to draw?  Absolutely.  To pretend otherwise, to try to simply ignore racial and gender identity, is to attempt to marginalize minorities by erasing the very bodies on which American society has been writing far more negative stereotypes for centuries.